I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid every time the circus came to town I begged my parents to take me! The magnificence of the big top, the roar of the lions, and the tantalizing aroma of popcorn and cotton candy created an unforgettable and (as you’ll see) irresistible experience.

There’s a distinct and calculated reason for that. Better yet, there’s a simple formula that we can all apply to our businesses to replicate this excitement. While it might not be wise to add trapeze artists or clowns to branding and marketing campaigns, we can all learn a lot from Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum’s brainchild, the 3-ring circus.

A Very Brief History of the 3-Ring Circus

Circus entertainment began in 1768 by Hussar Philip Astley when he brought street jugglers, acrobats, and performers together to a single location. As their popularity grew, so did the structures that contained the entertainment, transforming over time from a wooden stage into a massive tent.

In 1871, P.T. Barnum and his business partner, William Coup, revolutionized circus entertainment by using six sprawling tents and two different performance rings to captivate audiences. In 1879, as part of a merger with James A. Bailey and the Cooper and Bailey Circus, Barnum’s show added a third ring and became P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth. This is where the magic happened.

Rather than having the entire audience watch a single act, three separate acts would perform at the same time in different rings. The show-stopping stars, in other words, the acts that the circus thought would have the broadest appeal, would perform in the center ring. Two other acts would then perform in rings on either side, playing to more of a niche audience.

By having three different acts perform simultaneously, Barnum’s circus could appeal to a wide audience every night. Instead of relying on a single act to drive in a crowd, the simple act of having three rings running at the same time provided a level of entertainment for practically every member of the community and would bring a much larger crowd.

With the addition of the third ring, extra shows, and more entertainment value, P.T. Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth grew to accommodate audiences of 10,000 guests night after night.

How Businesses Can Leverage the 3-Ring Circus Concept and Provide Value for Customers

The key to utilizing Barnum’s revolutionary idea for your business and branding is to provide so much value that a larger percentage of your audience will take you up on your offer.

For example, Barnum would place the most desirable act, such as a lion tamer or trapeze artist, in the center ring. While they certainly dazzled audiences, these daring acts only appealed to a certain percentage of the market.

To combat this, Barnum added the other two rings. In one ring, he might have a clown riding a unicycle while juggling, appealing to the younger crowds. In the other ring, he would place the dancers or oddities, appealing to yet another segment of his audience. By doing so, Barnum was able to entertain a larger audience at once rather than fragmenting his total market.

Entire families would come out for the show because each person could find something to enjoy. Had Barnum stuck to having acts perform one at a time, only a percentage of the market would be interested, and his circus would never have flourished as it did.

Build Your 3-Ring Circus Business Offer

Naturally, we all want our products, services, and offerings to appeal to a majority of our target market.

To create the perfect 3-ring offer, start by identifying your show-stopping act. This is usually your main value proposition for the product or service. Think about the value this provides to your audience. While it’s likely an exceptional value, it still only appeals to a portion of your entire market.

To entice more of your audience to pay attention and ultimately engage with you, you’ll need to include more and more value (as you have probably already guessed, these are the second and third rings of your circus.) As you continue to add value to your offer, customers won’t be able to resist and will jump at the opportunity to work with you because of the massive value you are providing.

However, the key to Barnum’s success wasn’t to casually throw any random act into the ring. Each act was carefully selected to meet the interests and curiosity of the audience. When crafting your 3-ring offer, think about what value your customers want and need for a greater overall experience. All of this has to be well thought out, and of course, has to benefit the customer and not just be an all-out attention grab to benefit the business only.

Barnum’s 3-Ring Concept in Action

Here’s a look at some real-world scenarios:

Car dealerships run value-added promotions all the time. If car dealerships limited each sale to only the physical vehicle, customers would have no reason to purchase other than the price — resulting in continuous price competition between dealerships. On top of significant savings or low-interest rates, they also include extra value like lifetime warranties, discounts on vehicle maintenance, and more into your purchase — all to make the car sale irresistible.

Now consider a fast-food restaurant. Sure, you could buy just the sandwich, but why not add on a large french fries and drink for only a little more money? While the sandwich is the centerpiece of your meal, the side and drink add extra value for a small additional fee, and oftentimes make you buy “the value meal.”

Disney’s launch of Disney+ is also the perfect example of Barnum’s 3-ring circus ideology. While the company could have easily launched with only Disney and its vault of content, it opted to create a bundle offer, which provided viewers access to Hulu and ESPN+ as well.

Although Disney viewers are fiercely loyal to the House of Mouse, they only constitute a small segment of the company’s total audience. With ownership in major streaming and television companies such as ESPN and Hulu, it made sense to provide viewers extra value in the form of a subscription bundle.

Now, instead of capturing only a fragment of their audience with Disney films and content, they successfully targeted and acquired viewers interested in Hulu’s streaming content and the sports segments aired on ESPN+.

What examples of Barnum’s 3-ring circus concept have you experienced in your life?

Create 3-Ring Circus-Style Offers for Your Customers

With P.T. Barnum’s 3-ring circus concept in mind, it’s time to develop an irresistible offer for your customers.

If you’re not sure what value you can add or how to craft the perfect offer, let’s work together and find a solution.